US fighter jet shoots down unidentified, cylindrical object over Canada

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Washington:A US F-22 fighter jet has shot down an unidentified cylindrical object over Canada, a day after another similar object was downed near Alaskan waters and a week after the American military brought down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast.

The object was shot down on Saturday over Yukon territory in north-west Canada, according to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Pentagon said that the object was first observed in Alaska the night before, and military officials closely tracked it.

The decision to shoot down the object was taken following a phone call between US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, the White House said.

“I ordered the takedown of an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace. @NORADCommand shot down the object over the Yukon. Canadian and US aircraft were scrambled, and a US F-22 successfully fired at the object,” Trudeau said on Twitter.

The object was “cylindrical” and smaller than the suspected Chinese balloon shot down last weekend, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand said.

Saturday’s incident follows the downing of another unidentified object on Friday over Alaska and the shooting down of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon on February 4 by a US F-22 fighter jet.

According to Pentagon Press Secretary Brig Gen Pat Ryder, North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), detected the object over Alaska late on Friday evening.

The White House said the object was closely tracked and monitored by NORAD over the last 24 hours and the President has been continually briefed by his national security team since it was first spotted.

“Out of an abundance of caution and at the recommendation of their militaries, President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau authorised it to be taken down,” the White House said, adding that Biden authorised US fighter aircraft assigned to NORAD to conduct the operation and a US F-22 shot down the object in Canadian territory in close coordination with Canadian authorities.

“The leaders discussed the importance of recovering the object to determine more details on its purpose or origin. President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau commended NORAD’s and US Northern Command’s strong and effective partnership and agreed to continue their close coordination to detect, track, and defend our airspace,” the White House said.

Following the Biden-Trudeau phone call, two F-22 aircraft from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, monitored the object over the US airspace with the assistance of Alaska Air National Guard refuelling aircraft, tracking it closely and taking time to characterise the nature of the object, Ryder said.

Monitoring continued Saturday as the object crossed into Canadian airspace, with Canadian CF-18 and CP-140 aircraft joining the formation to further assess the object.

“A US F-22 shot down the object in Canadian territory using an AIM 9X missile following close coordination between US and Canadian authorities, to include a call today between Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin III and Minister of Defence Anita Anand,” Ryder said.

“As Canadian authorities conduct recovery operations to help our countries learn more about the object, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be working closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” he said.

Anand tweeted on Saturday that she had discussed the incident with US Defence Secretary Austin “and reaffirmed that we’ll always defend our sovereignty together.”

“The object was flying at an altitude of approximately 40,000 feet, had unlawfully entered Canadian airspace and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight. The object was shot down approximately 100 miles from the Canada-United States border over Canadian territory in central Yukon,” Anand said in a news conference.

“We will make sure that we leave no stone unturned in the analysis of the data,” Anand said.

Anand characterised the mission as the essence of how NORAD is supposed to work and said a decision was made to have Canadian and US planes in the air to ensure there were “sufficient assets” to ensure it could be taken down.

Gen Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, said specific instructions were given to the pilots of both countries operating under the command of a Canadian general that “whoever had the first best shot” would shoot first.

Last weekend, defence officials told US media that debris from the Chinese balloon landed in 47ft (14m) of water – shallower than they had expected – near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

China has denied the balloon – which first entered US airspace on 28 January – was used for spying purposes, saying it was a weather device gone astray.

The US, however, said the balloon is part of a fleet of surveillance balloons that have flown over five continents.

After the balloon incident, Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a planned trip to Beijing.

Chinese officials on Friday accused the US of “political manipulation and hype”.

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( With inputs from )

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